Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

A Few Short Notes On Some Short Fiction

with 10 comments

I’ve done surprisingly well at reading short fiction this year but unsurprisingly badly at writing about it. I am also currently on paternity leave which means I have very little free time and I’m also in withdrawal from my day job which mostly consists of writing bulletpoint lists. So here is a very quick summary of my reading:

  • Last year I reviewed the Puppy-stuffed Hugo shortlist for Strange Horizons. It is very bad. Last month I read the Nebula short story shortlist. It is also pretty bad (with the honorable exception of ‘Hungry Daughters Of Starving Mothers’ by Alyssa Wong). Reading both it is clear that despite the chaff, the difference between the two is purely political. In particular, ‘Damage’ by David D. Levine (acquired and edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden and published by Tor.com) is basically the same story as ‘Turncoat’ by Steve Rzasa (acquired and edited by Vox Day who views PNH and Tor.com as the Antichrist).
  • If I was writing about that shortlist, I’d probably want to link it to this Ethan Robinson review of The Weave by Nancy Jane Moore. Robinson also has some more direct thoughts here.
  • I have also started reading Interzone for the first time in a decade. Somethings don’t change; Nick Lowe is great on The Force Awakens in the latest issue. As always, the fiction is a mixed bag but the stand out story is ‘Empty Planets’ by Rahul Kanakia who I wasn’t previously aware of.
  • Also new to me are JY Yang (‘Song Of The Krakenmaid’ and ‘Secondhand Bodies’) and Kelly Robson (‘Two-Year Man’) who I have discovered through a secrit short fiction pusher who has got me hooked. The latter reminds me a bit of A Day In The Deep Freeze by Lisa Shapter which I’d love to write a bit more about.


Written by Martin

5 March 2016 at 14:03

Posted in sf, short stories

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10 Responses

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  1. ‘Damage’ may have the same basic idea as ‘Turncoat’, but one is well-written and the other isn’t.


    7 March 2016 at 08:47

  2. Well up for the trends you delineate. For too long Puppy FOMO has negatively impacted my experience as an occasional yet key consumer of short SFF. I want the latest in SFF content tailored to the politics both of my rage and my hope. Any SFF story that has not been segmented across at least the two major ideological markets is an underleveraged asset IMHO.

  3. Ray: I will concede that ‘Turncoat’ is worse than ‘Damage’ but they are both badly written and my point is that they are badly written in the same way: they imagine future space warfare that replicates mid-20th Century American air combat and AIs that replicate mid-20th Century American men. The only difference is whether that man is a Conservative or a Liberal.

    Jo: You knows it.


    7 March 2016 at 13:55

  4. In Turncoat, the narrating AI makes cultural references that would make sense to a 20th century American man, yes. Does the narrator of Damage? Why do you think so? (I thought the narrator of Damage presented as female if anything, and don’t remember anything connecting the narrator to the 20th century)

    The warfare in Damage suggests ‘air ace’ combat, yes. Not so much in Turncoat, I’d have said. That seems like a limited dimension on which to judge the success of the story.


    7 March 2016 at 14:27

  5. I think it is a pretty fundamental failure that both stories: a) have no interest in their future except in so far as it allows them to have an AI and b) have no interest in their AI except in so far as it allows them to make a facile point about the inhumanity of humanity. As Robinson says in his review of The Weave, “[it] simply lacks commitment to what it creates”. Alongside this, both stories are told in a functional style with little interest in the use of words.

    What leads you to describe ‘Damage’ as well-written?


    7 March 2016 at 20:47

  6. I don’t think the first part is a weakness in a short story. World-building is not a requirement. As long as the story presents a character, that character’s problem, and the resolution of the problem in sufficient detail, everything off-stage can be sketched in. Too much detail would itself be a problem, a sign that the author doesn’t know what the story is about. (Although of course there are stories where the background is the story, and the character and plot are only deep enough to demonstrate the background)

    Turncoat didn’t succeed for me, on those terms. Crucially, I had no sense of the character’s motivation, or the reasons for their change of heart. In Damage, on the other hand, I could see why the character wanted to do x (programming) and why they wanted to do y (experience) so the conflict made sense, the resolution made sense. And this, in part, speaks to your second point about AI. In Turncoat, there’s a pantomime antagonist who is at least understandable, he wants to shed his humanity. The narrator is … nothing, a blank. Which might work for a subsidiary character, or in a different story, but not in a story about an AI that changes sides.

    Reading the two stories within a few weeks of each other is probably the main thing that leads me to describe Damage as well-written! It is a similar story, but done well. At the sentence level I could pull out lots of things about Turncoat that jarred. Damage isn’t stylistically impressive, but it is reasonably well-crafted


    8 March 2016 at 13:22

  7. It is funny you mention the pantomime antagonist in ‘Turncoat’ since ‘Damage’ has the same. Our AI is programmed to love its pilot but there is no ambiguity here as Levine makes clear in the bluntest terms that the man is a genocidal bigot and buffoon to boot. This is a bloke whose password is “Hero and saviour of the Belt”. I can’t describe a story with a character who says things like “I concur most thoroughly! This is the Free Belt’s last stand, and my chance at history, and by God I will not fail!” as well written.

    Likewise, he is – objectively – “the finest combat pilot in the entire solar system”, a position that cannot really exist and, even if it could, shouldn’t be presented in such embarrassing Boys Own style. “One stitched-up, cobbled-together frankenship of a fight-bomber, hobbled by a massive payload, one her very first non-simulated flight in the configuration, against twelve brand-new top-of-the-line fighters in their own home territory, and we very nearly beat them.” Pure panto.


    10 March 2016 at 16:52

  8. As an amusing coda to this, I see ‘Damage’ is actually on the Sad Puppies nominations list this year.


    17 March 2016 at 18:16

  9. […] my short fiction reading has increased, I haven’t opened a novel for three months. And if reading is hard, writing is […]

  10. […] A sequel to that other post: […]

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